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Daily News Blog

08
Sep

Take Action by Sept. 13: Tell Canada to Ban Horrifically Hazardous Wood Preservative Pentachlorophenol

(Beyond Pesticides, September 8, 2020) Canada should be in accordance with international treaty to eliminate persistent pollutants. 

Canada is considering the elimination of one of the worst persistent pollutants—pentachlorophenol (penta)—that dot our landscape in utility poles and railroad ties. This wood preservative—a cancer-causing chemical with dioxin, furans, and hexachlorobenzene that causes health and environmental degradation—has no place in society as we struggle with shared global challenges of public and worker health threats, the climate crisis, and biodiversity decline. We have a chance to urge Canada to move ahead with a pentachlorophenol ban, joining with Mexico to show leadership in the protection of health and the environment—something the U.S. has not done.

Tell Canada to ban pentachlorophenol.

Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) is accepting comments on a proposal to ban the all uses of penta in Canada. Comments are due September 13. Canada is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which voted 90-2 to ban penta in 2015. The United States is not a signatory to the Stockholm Convention and still allows the use of penta on utility poles and other “wood that is subject to decay or insect infestation, including supporting structures in contact with the soil in barns, stables, and similar sites.”

Despite the ban in force in 186 countries, the United States has continued to import and use this hazardous wood preservative on telephone poles and railroad ties throughout the country. With Mexico set to close one of the last production plants in the world, Gulbrandsen Chemicals Inc. tried to make Orangeburg, a majority black community in South Carolina, the new epicenter for penta manufacturing. Following protests by lawmakers and coverage in The State newspaper, the company dropped its plans.

Penta is used to pressure treat wood, with the aim of prolonging its use in utility poles and railroad ties. Beyond Pesticides has sounded the alarm on penta and other wood preservatives for over 20 years, starting with the reports Pole Pollution and Poison Poles, which outlined the science on the hazards and alternatives to preservative-coated utility poles. Penta is a particularly concerning wood preservative, as it is well known to be contaminated with hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, and furans. Acute contact exposure through contact or inhalation with penta-treated products can result in severe irritation. Chronic risks include damage to organ systems like the liver and kidney, as well as impacts on immune, nervous, and endocrine system functioning. EPA reviews previously classified penta as a probable carcinogen, however its Integrated Risk Information System recently classified it as “likely to be carcinogenic.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that at least 1 in 1,000 workers are likely to develop cancer during their career at a penta production plant.

While EPA continues to drag its feet, an international treaty, called the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, was brought into force. Parties to the Stockholm Convention are bound to eliminate the use and production of hazardous chemicals voted on by member countries. The U.S. is glaringly absent from this treaty, signing it in 2001, yet never ratifying it through the Senate. Despite opposition from the U.S. and India, which is a minor producer of the chemical, the Stockholm Convention voted to impose the strictest ban possible on penta, beginning in 2016.  This set a clock ticking on the last North American penta plant, located in Matamoros, Mexico. Mexico was granted a five-year exemption from the treaty in order to provide time to shift production. With 2021 fast approaching, the plant’s owner, Cabot Microelectronics, announced it would stop manufacturing the chemical in order to comply with the Stockholm Convention. Around the same time, Gulbrandsen Chemicals Inc., a company that lists its headquarters in South Carolina, but appears to have ties to India, announced it would bring a production plant to Orangeburg.

The U.S. has long been the largest consumer of penta, and as a result has an intimate history with the chemical’s manufacturing process. Hundreds of Superfund sites throughout the country are designated as such because they were the location of previous penta production plants. According to research Beyond Pesticides conducted in Pole Pollution in the late 1990s, roughly 250 sites on the Superfund National Priorities list were contaminated with penta.

A ban by Canada will put added pressure on the U.S. EPA to finally ban penta.

The Canadian PMRA proposal summarizes the environmental and health hazards of penta. In the environment, concerns are persistence, mobility, and bioaccumulation (presence in all environmental compartments); potential risk to aquatic organisms; potential risk to terrestrial vertebrates; and release to the environment of polychlorodibenzodioxins, polychlorodibenzofurans, and hexachlorobenzene. Human health concerns include occupational exposure in wood treatment facilities and exposure to the general public from treated wood that could produce serious health effects. The long-term non-cancer risk was not shown to be acceptable. Based on the arithmetic mean exposure for all sites, all job groups and assuming 35 years of work per 78 year lifetime, cancer risk for workers in the treatment facilities is estimated as 1 × 10-3, compared to Health Canada’s generally acceptable level of 1.0 × 10-5 for occupational scenarios. PMRA concludes, “Evaluation of the available scientific information related to the human health aspects of concern indicated that under the current conditions of use of pentachlorophenol, potential risk to human health is not shown to be acceptable.”

Send this letter and sign the petition telling Canada to ban pentachlorophenol.

Please note: By sending this letter, you will also be adding your name to the petition that Beyond Pesticides will submit to Canada’s Pest Management Regulatory Agency. 

I am writing to support the proposal of the PMRA to ban all uses of pentachlorophenol. We share one global environmental that cannot tolerate continual contamination with persistent pollutions that travel the earth and contribute to public and worker health threats, the climate crisis, and biodiversity decline.

Canada is a signatory to the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which voted 90-2 to ban penta in 2015. Penta is a particularly dangerous wood preservative, as it is well known to be contaminated with hexachlorobenzene, polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins, and furans. Acute contact exposure through contact or inhalation with penta-treated products can result in severe irritation. Chronic risks include damage to organ systems like the liver and kidney, as well as impacts on immune, nervous, and endocrine system functioning. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently classified it as “likely to be carcinogenic.”

The Canadian PMRA proposal recognizes the environmental and health hazards of penta. In the environment, concerns are persistence, mobility, and bioaccumulation (presence in all environmental compartments); potential risk to aquatic organisms; potential risk to terrestrial vertebrates; and release to the environment of polychlorodibenzodioxins, polychlorodibenzofurans, and hexachlorobenzene.

Human health concerns include occupational exposure in wood treatment facilities and exposure to the general public from treated wood that could produce serious health effects. The long-term non-cancer risk was not shown to be acceptable. Based on the arithmetic mean exposure for all sites, all job groups and assuming 35 years of work per 78 year lifetime, cancer risk for workers in the treatment facilities is estimated as 1 × 10-3, compared to Health Canada’s generally acceptable level of 1.0 × 10-5 for occupational scenarios. PMRA concludes, “Evaluation of the available scientific information related to the human health aspects of concern indicated that under the current conditions of use of pentachlorophenol, potential risk to human health is not shown to be acceptable.”

Please ban all uses of pentachlorophenol in Canada, bringing the world closer to eliminating this highly toxic persistent organic pollutant.

Thank you for your consideration of my comments.

Sincerely,

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One Response to “Take Action by Sept. 13: Tell Canada to Ban Horrifically Hazardous Wood Preservative Pentachlorophenol”

  1. 1
    Krystalle T Warey Says:

    Please ban all uses of highly toxic and persistent pentachlorophenol NOW.

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